22 May 2020 - Global

Keeping Learning Alive

A partner in NW Syria prepares online learning

Education and learning is a key pillar of Save the Children's Agenda for Action to #ProtectAGeneration throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic hit us, the world faced a global learning crisis.

More than 250 million children lacked basic literacy skills, despite spending on average four years in school, and there were 60 million out-of-school children of primary age who had been denied an opportunity to be educated, either due to poverty, gender, ethnicity, geography or disability.

This global learning deficit was not only a wasted opportunity for millions of children, but also a great social injustice. Girls from poor households had the lowest rates of educational attainment. Children living in fragile states were up to three times more likely to be out of school than those living in non-conflict contexts. The scale of the learning crisis was colossal.

COVID-19 has added to this crisis, making it the biggest education emergency of our times. By mid-April, 129 countries around the world had closed all schools, affecting more than 90% of the world's student population – almost 1.6 billion children. According to recent data, these school closures will cost $10 trillion in lost earnings to these out-of-school children alone. Coronavirus will put huge strain on the hard won, modest gains made in education over the last decades and, sadly, we know that these losses will hit the most marginalized and deprived children the hardest, especially girls and refugees.

The longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to ever return. Many of them risk being pulled into child labour, early marriage or displaced from their homes. When children lose out on education, they lose out on future opportunities including economic benefits, upwards social mobility and suffer from lack of empowerment. Evidence conducted after World War II suggests that loss of learning during the war had a negative impact on former students' lives, even forty years later. We need urgent action to avoid unravelling years of progress.

Our response

Save the Children has been hard at work to keep education alive for girls and boys affected by school closures and lockdowns. We want to ensure that their parents and caregivers are well equipped with right attitudes and skills to keep up their children's learning and wellbeing in a supportive home environment. We are also working closely with Ministries of Education around the world on providing adequate support to teachers during this pandemic, so their jobs are retained and salaries are protected.

We have rapidly supported countries make a shift to online education leveraging a host education technology platforms including Moodle, Waliku, DHIS2, Worldreaderapp & Kolibri to offer distance learning across a range of contexts, and there are some really powerful examples of how communities around the world have adapted and innovated in the face of this pandemic. While distance learning is keeping education alive for many of the world's children, millions don't have access to internet or devices.

Our goal is to ensure that all children, especially the most deprived, have access to education so that learning and wellbeing outcomes are maintained or improved. Therefore, during these times we have alternatives; either through interactive radio instruction, such as in Uganda and Ethiopia, through paper-based learning kits including daily wellbeing diaries in some to support children's mental health and reading games, or through hybrid apps such as Kolibri that allow for offline distribution of digital learning content.

Teams distribute learning materials in Uganda

Save the Children teams in Uganda prepare to distibute learning materials.

We are seeing this low-or-no-tech approach work well in many countries such as in Egypt, Myanmar, Palestine and Sudan, where they are providing printed at-home learning kits, accessible to every last child. In Nigeria, we have procured and distributed radio sets to some of the poorest communities so that children without access to technology do not miss out on learning.

In this crisis, we are in it together. We have continued to work together with our international and national partners to ensure that education investments and financing are not compromised, instead prioritized in favour of those worst hit especially girls and refugees. A priority for us has been to strengthen education systems in preparation of schools re-opening and help children get back to school when it is safe. I'm particularly proud of the key role Save the Children played in developing the first inter-agency Safe Back to School Practitioner's Guide to support school systems and educators to start their back to school planning. We are calling for proper WASH and sanitation facilities in schools, effective social distancing practices in schools, tracking re-enrolment and supporting children with accelerated learning initiatives to make up for learning losses.

We need to ensure that a temporary disruption of schooling does not become permanent loss of education. Our Agenda for Action puts children at the centre of our COVID-19 response and puts pressure on governments and the international community to #ProtectAGeneration from the worst impacts of coronavirus. We're calling on governments, the UN and regional bodies, financial institutions and the private sector to uphold the right of every child to a safe, inclusive and quality education. A generation's survival, safety and future depends on it.

All over the world, Save the Children is rapidly adapting our existing work whilst preparing for outbreaks of coronavirus in countries with limited capacity to respond.

Find out more about Save the Children's coronavirus response.

We stand side by side with children in the world's toughest places.